Sunday, February 15, 2015

Horsing around

I had originally planned this column to be “Interaction with animals”; I forget what triggered the idea.  One of the subjects was horses.  Since most of us consider pets as those animals we keep in our houses, I thought I would make horses a separate column.  The only people I know of who keep horses in their houses are Pippi Långstrump and Danae of Wiley’s “Non Sequitor”.

My first memory of riding a horse was from when I was 10 or 11.  I went to camp where one of the activities was riding in a group.  i was riding at a walking pace in a line of horses and riders.  Suddenly my horse lay on its side.  One of the leaders said that horse often did that.  Memory stops there, but I assume they got the horse up, I remounted, and we continued on.

I’m sure that I rode a few more times as a teenager, but I don’t remember any.

I don’t remember if I was a member of a youth group or a leader at the time of the next incident.  We were in a field where a horse was grazing.  It was standing near a platform and I decided to get on it bareback.  The horse tolerated my intrusion, but it soon trotted off to another part of the field with me still on its back.  It then proceeded to eat grass without any mind of me, and I could do nothing to make it move.  I managed to dismount without falling and walked away.

The next riding experience was the most complex and exciting.  We went to a hotel in Tällberg, Sweden for a week.  One of the activities that the hotel owner arranged was horseback lessons at a nearby stable.

Most of our activity was in a paddock.  We rode around in circles at various paces.  One of the things we had our horses do was run up a ramp and jump off, only about a two-foot drop.  But what excitement for us novices!  We also had some boring time.  One rainy day those of us who cared to mounted up.  Our horses just stayed put in the middle of the paddock.  Probably on the last day we did something I wouldn’t have dared do alone or with friends.  With a trainer, we took our horses into the woods.  One part was on a trail where we had the horses walk, canter, and gallop.  My horse also liked to stop and eat blueberries.  The real highlight was riding down a rocky slope.  The rocks were slabs that probably were at a twenty to thirty degree angle; to me they felt like they were at a forty-five foot angle!

I should add here that I don’t think I ever learned to ride properly.  When the horse went up I went down; when the horse went down I went up; not very nice to the horse.

One ride where I had no ups and downs was on a donkey in Rhodes.  Some in our party opted to take a donkey ride up to the temple at the top of the bluff.  The rest of us walked up and maybe took a donkey down.  The donkeys are led by guides and the ride is very stable.  Somewhere I have an “official” picture of me on donkey back, smoking a pipe.

One summer, probably in the early eighties, my wife’s cousins arranged a big family get together at Jackson Hole for the fiftieth anniversary of their parents.  One of the activities that I did was the trail ride.  I think we did nothing but walk through grassland, but it was really something to do it within site of the Grand Tetons!

The cousins also organized a reunion on Mackinac island.  Most of our exercise was walking to meals and to miniature golf.  There were a couple of stables and I envisioned riding all the way around the island.  Nobody else in our party was interested in even getting on a horse, and so I made a reservation for myself.

When I showed up for my ride, I was surprised that the stable assumed I could ride alone, not in a group.  My wife took a picture of me on the horse, and armed with a trail map, off my horse and I went at a walk.  Once we were off the city streets I became a bit uncertain of where I was, even though the trail was marked.  I think some other riders passed us and my horse cantered for a bit.  When I determined that half the time was up, I turned my horse around and returned to the stable.

I did have to be a control freak at one point.  As the horse turned left onto the street where the stable was, it wanted to cut the corner.  I made it stay in the “proper” lanes.

Our son organized a ride somewhere in Minnesota.  I remember that we had to cross a road, most of the trail was sandy, and that when we got back to the stable as soon as I wrapped the bridle around a post, my horse locked its legs and went to sleep.

My last ride was about ten years ago in Iceland.  An Icelandic horse is not much bigger than a donkey, one almost feels as if one’s feet are dragging the ground.  We went on a group ride to the top of a bluff up a rutted road and back down again.  This time I remembered to ask for a carrot at the farm-stay kitchen, and I gave it to my horse when the ride was done.  Even if Iceland is mostly a no-tip country, it is a good idea to tip your horse.

Mel's high horse is now his column.